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"It's a joyful moment" | Quad Cities Jewish congregations consolidate after walking Torah across river

Congregations from Rock Island and Davenport officially consolidated under one roof, after a historic 6.7 mile walk from the old Tri-City Jewish Center.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Two Quad City Jewish congregations are now officially consolidated under one roof, after the traditional walking of the Torah. 

Congregation Beth Israel in Rock Island made the 6.7 mile journey from the old Tri-City Jewish Center on Thursday afternoon, with new Torah carriers posted every nearly half-mile. Once across the river, members of the Temple Emanuel Congregation in Davenport joined with their own Torah, and together, the two walked to their new joint building on Kimberly and Jersey Ridge Rd. 

Both congregations were forced to sell their individual buildings and merge into a new location after years of declining member numbers. Each group now has about a 100 families each. The two congregations will share leadership from Rabbi Linda Bertentahl, but hold their own services. 

"It's hard to leave a beloved home. There's a lot of sacred memories in both of those old buildings - everything from funerals to baby namings, weddings, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. It becomes a home," said Bertentahl. "So we've left our spiritual homes and that's kind of wrenching. It's hard." 

But at the same time, she said the new beginning brings 'anticipatory jubilation' at the strength of a newly combined community. 

"We were all convinced that this would strengthen us as a community to come together, and we're looking forward to that strengthening. I hope we're even looking forward to the learning process of learning how to live together," she laughed. 

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As the members carrying the Torah began their journey at the old Tri-City Jewish Center, Steve Andich was waiting at Brandon's Pub & Grille in Rock Island. 

He's been a member of Congregation Beth Israel his entire life and remembers when they moved into the center 40 years ago. 

"It was a little sad to be moving. But life goes on and we have to move forward," he said. "It was a good run, it was a wonderful building. We loved it. We had a lot of good memories there." 

Andich says being part of the tradition of walking the Torah is all about connecting the past with the future. 

"It's important to do that to make that connection to move forward. So we start a new thing and we don't forget the old," he said. "I'm a lifetime member of the congregation. And I followed it from building to building. It's a new life." 

Inside the newly renovated building, there are touches of the past. 

Directly inside the front doors is a wall covered in a floor-to-celling tree mosaic, comprised of hundreds of glittering golden leaves. The 'Life Tree' is made up of multiple trunks, with one representing Davenport's Temple Emanuel, and two dedicated for Rock Island's Congregation of Beth Israel. Names adorn many of the leaves, available for purchase to honor family and friends. 

Although separate trunks, the leaves spill into each other, to form one large Life Tree. 

Further inside, the doors covering the Ark of the Covenant are from the old Tri-City Jewish Center. Colorful stained glass windows around the doors are from the old Temple. 

"This is a moment that's going to live in my memory forever," said Bertentahl. "It's a joyful moment. So when it comes to emotions, that's a big one. Joy."

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There's big plans in the works for the old Tri-City Jewish Center as well, which was bought by the Two Rivers YMCA. It will be renovated into a community space, with parts rented out to the Rock Island Library. 

RELATED: The Tri-City Jewish Center will soon be Rock Island's new YMCA and library

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